Read Love Drugged Online

Authors: James Klise

Tags: #young adult, #teen fiction, #fiction, #teen, #teen fiction, #teenager, #angst, #drama, #romance, #relationships, #glbt, #gay, #homosexuality, #self-discovery

Love Drugged (3 page)

BOOK: Love Drugged
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The period ended and the bell rang. Everybody but me got up and moved toward the doors. I took my time logging off, gathering my notebooks. I felt like I was moving in slow motion. Inside my head, I kept berating myself for being so careless. Most of the kids left, but Paul waited for me at the door.

He smiled, lifting his red chin. “Small world.” His eyes were set too close together, giving him the look of a pathetic, red-faced dog. In any other circumstance I might have felt sorry for him.

“I don’t want to be late for class,” I said, almost whispering.

He leaned close. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. By the way, Jamie, I’m Paul.”

I know who you are, CrazyforKFC.

I pushed through the door. “I have to go.”

“Wait a sec,” he said, but I didn’t turn back. I imagined him watching me, studying my body, as I raced down the hallway. Did he think he had a chance with me? It felt too close, too real. It made me want to vomit.

I spent the rest of the day in a panic, my throat thick with emotion. It freaked me out to think that a boy at school knew my secret. If confronted, I couldn’t deny it. I couldn’t pretend I had visited that site by accident. We’d chatted for weeks. He mentioned hot actors and I responded with approval. He might have saved my messages. The worst part was not knowing if I could trust him. I worried about it constantly, the way my grandmother worried about leaving the iron on when we were at the grocery store.
Did I leave it on? Should we go back?
It was the kind of sharp anxiety that took over the mind, clouding out all other thoughts.

After school, I lingered in class with my math teacher, asking for extra help. I didn’t need tutoring, but I had to kill time. I didn’t want to risk running into KFC Paul again. But the effort was wasted. When I went to my locker, he was waiting for me, sitting on the floor in the empty hallway. He jumped up.

I faltered. “How’d … how did you know where my locker is?”

Smiling, he fluttered his fingers in the air like wings. “Oh, a bird told me.”

I began to suspect that the “crazy” part of his user name was more significant than the KFC part. Maybe if I didn’t speak, he’d get the hint. I opened my locker, trying to focus on homework.

“You look cute when you’re stressing,” he said. “But you have no reason to be. I said I wouldn’t tell anyone.”

Go away,
I pleaded telepathically. I reached in and extracted two notebooks and my gigantic World History textbook.

“That book is a bitch, right? I may still have my notes from that class. I should give them to you and make your life a lot easier.”

Go away … Go away …
I dropped the textbook into my bag—
thud!
I took out my wool coat.

He leaned next to me, too close. I could feel his warm breath. “Dude, you need to chill,” he said defensively. “I’m not a freak. Neither are you. Friends?” His smile was coy.

I picked up my backpack and slammed the locker shut. “Leave me
alone
,” I hissed. I turned and raced for the exit.

The following days passed in a blur of paranoia and watchfulness. I stopped going to the library. Crazy Paul didn’t approach me again. I ran into him one morning when we were both getting tardy slips from the main office. He stared me down but didn’t say a word.

More than anything, I wondered if he had told someone. I tried to read the faces of random students in the halls. Did their eyes linger on me? Not as far as I could tell. Did they whisper my name like a horrible disease when I passed? Nope. Most people ignored me, as usual.

Still, I was convinced it was only a matter of time. Before long, people would know the big headline of my secret. Everyone—classmates, teachers, the creepy guy who sold French fries in the cafeteria—would start to see me through a pinkish gay lens:
There he is,
the gay kid. That’s the gay one there. You know Jamie—the gay kid?
I was not ready to go to the island. Maybe someday, but not yet.

I knew what I had to do.

I went back to the library. I logged on to my school account and erased my Internet history. It took only two minutes. I deleted my Favorites and cleaned out my Cookies. I went to ChicagoJamie’s email account and blocked all the old names and addresses. It almost felt like murder—each click a little bullet aimed at a boy I didn’t ever want to hear from again.
Click,
gone,
click,
gone,
click, click,
click,
gone, gone, gone. The process was fast and scary and necessary.

I kept my eyes on the library door the whole time, watching and dreading. When I was finished, I logged off, picked up my backpack, and fled.

I went to find Wesley at his locker. The contents seemed to have exploded around his feet.

“Cool, you’re here,” he said. “It’s not too late for you to come to baseball conditioning if—”

I interrupted. “You told me your cousin knows that girl, Celia Gamez?”

He nodded. “Mimi went to junior high with her.”

“I need to meet Mimi then. I want to know everything about Celia.”

“Yeah?” He looked pleased. “So, this girl, she pushes your buttons?”

In this regard, Wesley had more buttons than a computer keyboard.

“Sure, yeah, she pushes my buttons.”

He slapped me on the back like a comrade. “Finally! Dude, you were beginning to worry me.”

“And your problem, Wes, is that you use the word
dude
without irony.”

After supper that night, rather than hiding in my bedroom, I joined my grandparents in the living room. The TV was on, a loud, intense game show where contestants were made to answer a series of impossible trivia questions. My grandparents were sitting on opposite ends of the worn-out upholstered sofa. Hands on their laps, quiet as always. Both gray-blonds and small in stature, they could be mistaken for well-behaved children if it weren’t for the wrinkles. I get my height from my dad’s side.

Taking a seat in a chair next to my grandfather, I picked up the sports section of the
Tribune
and opened it, as if going over the scores was something I did every night.

My grandfather eyed me with suspicion. A semi-retired plumber, he’d spent his whole life scowling at problem pipes. He pointed to the newspaper spread open on my lap. “What do you plan to do with that?”

“Leave him alone,” my grandmother said. Her eyes didn’t stray from the TV screen. “He’s just keeping warm.”

“In fact, I’m going to
read
it.” I gave the paper an impatient little shake, then bent closer to read. As much as I liked playing baseball with friends, pro sports did nothing for me. Every sports section was the same. Basketball players acting cocky. Football players looking mean. I scanned the columns until page five, which featured coverage of a tri-state college wrestling tournament. My eyes studied the winners—thick-necked boys with shoulders round as stones, heavy curving thighs. In one photo, two square-jawed members of the Wisconsin team displayed medals against their broad chests. They were perfect, muscular and athletic like the plastic superheroes stowed in the deep corners of my closet. When I was young, I looked at men like this with envy; I wanted so much to be like them. But now my feelings were complicated. I didn’t want to
be like
them—I
liked
them.

I put down the paper, feeling angry. I had to swallow these feelings, bury them.

Leave me alone.

I’d always had a strong will. If I made a determined effort, maybe I could change.

Click,
gone.

four

As requested, Wesley arranged lunch with his cousin Mimi. It turned out that this girl was the same Mimi who sat in the front row of my World History class, hogging all the airtime. She was little and loud, with tight brown curls that she wore in a single
poof
behind her head, like a poodle. She looked like a lot of girls in our school, always dressed in snug-fitting denim with tacky gold jewelry. In class she was outspoken and spirited, which I envied, but her opinions were fickle. It was always fascinating to watch her in debates, stating her passionate convictions in front of the group, only to jump to the other side when the opposing view prevailed.

As soon as we were settled with our food, Mimi started right in. “Wes tells me you’re getting all cozy with Celia Gamez. I’m not sure I approve.”

“I wouldn’t say cozy,” I said. “What’s your beef with her?”

She hesitated, dragging her fork through her salad as if she were turning something over in her mind. “No reason. She’s got a good story, I’ll give her that.”

Wes and I remained frozen at attention. “Please go on,” I said.

“Okay. Where do I begin? I mean, look at her, she’s gorgeous, she’s richer than shit. But here’s a less-than-glamorous factoid that you probably do
not
know. In seventh grade, her mom died. Totally out of the blue. Car crash on Lake Shore Drive.”

Silence all around.

“Wow,” I said. “That obviously sucks.”

Mimi nodded. “Biggest news story of the year. And believe me, that was a year of big stories. First kisses, first tampons, all sorts of bra-snapping drama.”

“Were you friends with her?” Wes asked.

“Not so much. No sleepovers in eight years, not one pillow fight.”

Wesley sat up. “Ladies and gentlemen, speak of the devil.”

“The angel,” I corrected, and attempted a masculine leer.

We watched as Celia walked from the food line to a crowded lunch table across the room. She wore jeans and a tight orange T-shirt that read
PULP FREE, PURE PREMIUM
. She sat down without smiling or greeting her friends. Like anyone of superior beauty, there was something rare and isolated about her—an unattainable quality that could arouse a person’s sympathy or their fear. Wasn’t there always something a little frightening about really beautiful people?

Mimi filled us in on more of Celia’s story. Her father was a doctor. He was born in Mexico, and Celia’s mother was born in Argentina. Celia had one older brother who lived in Italy, and one older sister who lived in Los Angeles and was somehow connected to the film industry. Mimi repeated the fact that Wes had already told me regarding the Gamez mansion: “Biggest house on the North Side.”

“Oh, one other item of interest,” Mimi added. “I know for a fact that Celia was the first girl in our eighth-grade class to get her own birth-control pills.”

I reached nervously for one of Wesley’s French fries. “Is she, uh, slutty then?”

“Watch it, Mr. Judgmental,” Mimi said. “I’m on the Pill, too.”

“Ay, no!” Wes hooted. “Not my own cousin! My own flesh and blood!”

“Wes, my parents are practical. As much as they would prefer that I waited a long time to have sex, they don’t want me to get pregnant in high school.”

I nodded, hoping my shock didn’t show. I never would have guessed this girl was sexually active. Wesley wasn’t, as far as I knew. My fifteenth birthday had come and gone, and I was as close to kissing someone as winning the Kentucky Derby.

“Celia’s dad must have the same practical attitude,” Wes said.

“Dr. Gamez actually invents pills,” Mimi said. “He has this lab where he researches and creates new pills that he sells to pharmaceutical companies. No joke, shitloads of money.”

“That explains the mansion,” I said.

Mimi shrugged. “So maybe he’s got a casual attitude toward the Pill—that old-fashioned granny pill.”

Wes had been drinking milk, and the tiny straw poked through the side of his mouth. “Hey, I’m on a pill, too,” he muttered. “My little Ritalin pill.”

“Thank God you are!” we said in unison.

Then Mimi said, “If you like Celia so much, why don’t you ask her out?”

I smiled, feeling the heat. “At this point, I prefer to admire from afar.” If I told them about my invitation to Celia’s house on Friday, Wes would apply the pressure. I wasn’t ready to pursue a girl romantically.

Mimi had some sort of bug up her ass. “Hey, I’ve already got you figured out. Are you all talk? Maybe there’s something stopping you.”

I wondered,
What does she suspect?

Rather than sparring with her, I described how Celia had snubbed my cookies. “Kind of bitchy, huh?” I said.

Now Wes frowned. “No excuses, dude. This is not about friggin’ Chips Ahoy! You need to jump on this.”

“Wes, give up on this guy.” Mimi sneered in my direction.

“Seriously, man,” Wes said. “When are you going to have the balls to spend time alone with a girl?”

Well, in one day, two hours, thirty minutes—that’s when.

At supper that night, in the damp heat of my grandparents’ kitchen, I wondered what it would be like to live in a mansion. Or to have a doctor-father who made important contributions to science and medicine.

My own parents preferred employment that allowed them to work from home, wearing what they called “jogging clothes.” This attire ran the gamut from T-shirts and sweatpants to, some days, whatever they slept in. Recently they had embarked on yet another business venture—a package-mailing and receiving depot. They advertised in neighborhood coffee shops and in the local free paper:
We’ll send it! We’ll sign for it!
I assumed this venture would be another flop, but it turned out there were a lot of people who weren’t home during the day to receive their UPS and FedEx packages. Now the rooms upstairs looked like a warehouse, with stacks of brown boxes, padded envelopes, poster tubes, and express mail everywhere. Each night between five and seven, the doorbell chimed nonstop as my parents greeted harried customers who wanted their packages.
Packages.
Wesley teased me mercilessly. “Just think,” he said, “someday your family will be
famous
for its packages. I mean it.
Nobody
can service a package like your family can.”

It was my brilliant inspiration for them to offer gift-wrapping on the side. Why not make an extra three bucks per customer? So the dining room upstairs had been transformed into a gift-wrapper’s paradise—endless choices of papers, bows, ribbons, plastic novelties, stickers, raffia straw, feathers, anything to wrap gifts according to client whimsy.

After the rush, my parents sometimes tried to squeeze in dinner with my grandparents and me. This was a rare phenomenon, all five chairs filled. With my parents present for meals I felt more at home at my grandparents’ table, not like a foreign dignitary.

“Things are going really well at school lately,” I announced, reaching for Jell-O.

They all turned as if the pot roast had spoken.

My mother was chewing, but she smiled and raised her eyebrows to convey something along the lines of
Good for you, honey!
Usually she looks young for her age, unless she’s tired.

“That’s great to hear, kiddo,” Dad said, “because to become the man colleges want, you have to start
now
. Listen to me, you hit the ball over the fence now, and you can take it easy going around the bases.”

Whenever he used sports metaphors with me, I nodded to be polite. I really did not want to get into the baseball argument with him again.

“So did you get straight A’s in high school?” I asked him.

His in-laws laughed softly into their teacups.

“Mostly A’s?”

Now even Dad had to grin. “Buddy, look at your ole man. Hitting fouls and pop flies ever since college. But hey, I’m still swinging!”

“Did you get A’s, Mom?” I asked.

When she hesitated, perhaps out of modesty, my grandmother said, “She did—absolutely she did.”

My grandfather leaned toward me. “She was a superior student.”

Mom folded her napkin next to her plate. “Jamie, here’s the thing. The teachers told me what to do, and I did it. They said study, I studied. They said write a five-page paper, I wrote a five-page paper. They always gave me the information I needed. Teachers
tell
you and they
give
you. All you have to do is listen to the information and respond. I never understand these people who whine and say, ‘Boo-hoo, poor me, school is so hard.’ The truth is, there’s never another time in your whole life when everything you need to succeed is handed right to you.”

“Right on a silver platter,” Dad said, nodding. “Meanwhile, me? I took that platter and scraped everything off so I could look at my goddamn reflection.”

Everybody laughed, and my mother said to him, “The difference is, you had a baseball scholarship to count on when it came to college. Also, well, I have to admit, it
was
a handsome reflection.” She smiled at me. “And now we see it in our beautiful son.”

“No excuses, pretty boy,” my grandfather said gently, resting his hand on the back of my chair. “You take what’s given to you and you use it. Got it?”

I nodded to indicate my commitment to the plan.

My mother caught my dad’s eye and tapped her wristwatch. Soon they would return upstairs to paperwork, leaving me with hours of quiet until bedtime.

My dad stood at the door with his arms folded. My mother began carrying dirty plates to the sink.

“One other thing,” I said, sounding real casual about it. “There’s a girl I like at school.”

That got everybody’s attention.

“Whoa there, Romeo,” my mother said. “It’s a little early for dating, isn’t it? Romance can be expensive.”

“But a crush is a wonderful thing,” my dad said, grabbing a chair again. He sat down next to me.
“Who is she?”

“A girl in my class named Celia,” I said. “I barely know her.”

“No shit,” Dad said, grinning. “That’s terrific, buddy!” He put his hand on my shoulder and studied me, as if maybe I was putting him on.

“Good for what ails you,” my grandmother said, pointing at me with her bony finger. “That’s what a crush is.”

I looked away, wondering if she had any suspicion of what ailed me.

Would it break her heart?

An awkward silence settled over the room. I realized I had startled everybody with this news.

My mother stood with her back to me, scraping off plates. “No dating until you get your driver’s license, next year,” she said. “No girl wants to be picked up by her date
and
his parents.”

“That’s fair,” I said.

“You’ve all got your mouths hanging open,” my grandfather said sharply. “Fact is, a teenage boy without a crush isn’t a teenage boy.”

For once I had to agree with him. Ivan, my tough, sensitive, blue-eyed crush from the First Knights, flickered in my thoughts before I remembered we were talking about Celia.

Unused to this level of attention, I pushed my chair away from the table and stood. “Thank you for the very nice dinner.”

I went straight to the bathroom so my abrupt exit would make sense. I closed the door, sat on the tub ledge, and took a few breaths. I wasn’t used to lying to them so boldly. My heart was going
rat-a-tat-tat
.

Like the rest of my grandparents’ apartment, the bathroom was pristinely clean. It looked like a pharmacy—cold white tiles, harsh lights, and dozens of brown plastic bottles lined up along the sink and the window ledge. I liked to examine the bottles one by one, studying their labels. For me, these prescriptions had always represented a mystery: Was sickness a secret? Were some illnesses so awful that they were not even discussed? Maybe these pills kept my grandparents from getting sick in the first place.

I took a pill bottle from the window ledge. Removing the white cap, I poured the colorful capsules into my palm—purple and green. Lighter than I expected, like cold cereal or sunflower seeds. They didn’t tempt me, not really. I wanted a different medicine.

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